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FOURTH TRUMPET FOR THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION - Ted Lewis

FOURTH TRUMPET FOR THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION

COMMENTARY

By Ted Lewis
Special to Virtueonline
www.virtueonline.org
May 6, 2010

The fourth Global South to South Encounter, held in Singapore from April 19 to 23, marked a further emergence of churches in Africa, Asia, and South America as the Anglican Communion's center of gravity. It was not separatist; there was no equivalent of the "To your tents, O Israel." of Jeroboam (1 Kings 12.16). Instead it asserted effectively that this center was no longer in Canterbury and the churches of the West but now in itself.

As Archbishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East Mouneer Anis put it: "We do not need another Communion; we are the Communion." The Encounter scathingly criticized the course that The Episcopal Church (TEC) has taken and, implicitly, the failure of the Communion's present Instruments to deal with it. Indeed, it called for a review of "the entire Anglican Communion structure." Given its assertion of Global South centrality, and its representation of some 80 percent of the Communion's active members, the Encounter's pronouncements can be ignored with difficulty by Canterbury, by western churches including the American, and by the Global South itself.

The official communiqué can be seen here: http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=12448

The communiqué's first part affirms the importance of mission, within the framework of Scripture. Thereafter it turns to current actualities, in particular to TEC. What it says about TEC is worth quoting at length. For the communiqué's approaches to its other subjects---the the Global South's stance with regard to TEC, recognition of the Anglican Church in North America, adoption of the Anglican Covenant, authority within the Communion---may be seen as springing from it.

[W]e continue to grieve over The Episcopal Church USA (TEC) ... and all those churches that have rejected the Way of the Lord as expressed in Holy Scripture. The recent action of TEC in the election and intended consecration of May Glasspool, a partnered lesbian, as a bishop in Los Angeles has demonstrated, yet again, a total disregard for the mind of the Communion. These churches continue in their defiance as they set themselves on a course that contradicts the plain teaching of Holy Scripture on matters so fundamental that they affect the very salvation of those involved....

Forthright as this is, some background is needed for a full understanding. It is not just Canon Glasspool's impending consecration that the Encounter was perturbed about. It is the whole course that in 2003 TEC embarked on with its election of the partnered homosexual Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire and on which it has persevered despite earnest and repeated calls for a halt from the Archbishop of Canterbury, successive Primates Meetings, and the Anglican Consultative Council. Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, affirming the traditional Anglican teaching on sexuality, had already declared against such a course.

TEC's 2006 General Convention indicated a willingness to refrain from consecrating further homosexual bishops. But the 2009 General Convention removed any remaining restraints on these and on same-sex marriages as well. For the Global South and for some others too, Canon Glasspool's election ended any uncertainties about TEC's continuation on its course. Also of concern, pronouncements by TEC Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori appeared to cast doubt on both the uniqueness of Christ and the sufficiency of Scripture.

The communiqué does not merely cite what it regards as TEC's "innovations." It goes on to call for them to be responded to. Noting that some Global South provinces are already in broken or impaired communion with TEC, it encourages others to adopt the same stance. It welcomes into partnership the recently formed Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and calls on all provinces to be in full communion with it. And this too may be seen as by way of response.

For thereby the communiqué recognizes the ACNA as the valid alternative to TEC in America, albeit still accepting that many Communion Partners and others remaining within TEC do not accept its innovations. (Archbishop Bob Duncan of the ACNA participated in the Encounter, as did the Communion Partner Bishops Mark Lawrence of South Carolina and John Howe of Central Florida.) Further, the communiqué upholds Archbishops Mouneer Anis of Jerusalem and the Middle East, Henry Orombi of Uganda, and Ian Ernest of the Indian Ocean in their withdrawal from the Instruments of Communion in which TEC participates.

The primary reference here is to the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, which at the Encounter was held to have been set up by Canterbury and the Anglican Communion Office unilaterally and thus not to be properly constituted. Here too is an assertion that the Global South is not subordinate to other elements of the Communion but is entitled to assess their actions for itself.

It is in this vein that the communiqué deals with the Anglican Covenant, the fourth and final draft of which was released last December. It considers the Covenant to be positive in principle: "Global South leaders have been in the forefront of the development of the 'Anglican Covenant' that seeks to articulate the essential elements of our faith together with means by which we might exercise meaningful and loving discipline for those who depart from the 'faith once for all delivered to the saints.'"

It seems however to set conditions on its adoption by the Global South. "We are currently reviewing the proposed Covenant to find ways to strengthen it in order for it to fulfill its purpose. For example, we believe that all those who adopt the Covenant must be in compliance with Lambeth 1.10 [see above]. Meanwhile we recognize that the Primates Meeting, being responsible for Faith and Order, should be the body to oversee the Covenant in its implementation, not the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion." The reservations of the Global South about the Standing Committee have already been noted. Further, in according the Primates Meeting the responsibility for the Covenant's oversight the communiqué implies that it, and not the Lambeth Conference meeting only decennially, or the Anglican Consultative Council, or even Canterbury, should be the focus of authority within the Communion.

All this leads to the expression of frustration with existing arrangements and call for a new order in the Communion with which the communiqué concludes.

Over the last 20 years we have been distracted by conflicts and controversies that have kept us from effectively fulfilling the Great Commission. While we have been so distracted, Christian heritage, identity and influence has continued to decline in the West. We believe that there is a need to review the entire Anglican Communion structure, especially the Instruments of Communion and the Anglican Communion office, in order to achieve an authentic expression of the current reality of our Anglican Communion.

Analysis

My reports on Anglican developments have over the past couple of years have pointed to two things.

Firstly, the Archbishop of Canterbury has essentially avoided addressing the departures of TEC from Anglican tradition. Secondly, he has effectively prevented the Communion's other Instruments of Unity (the Lambeth Conference, the Primates Meeting, the Anglican Consultative Council) from doing so.

Among other things, when the February 2007 Primates Meeting called on TEC to clarify its intentions regarding the consecration of homosexual bishops and the blessing of same-sex unions, he took it on himself to give TEC a pass.

The 2008 Lambeth Conference he converted from a resolution-taking body as thitherto into a discussion club. And at the May 2009 Anglican Consultative Council meeting he intervened to forestall approval of the then current draft of the Anglican Covenant, pending further revision (and loosening). A result of this has been that TEC's departures have not been addressed, at least not decisively. But at the same time it has left a void in the Communion's leadership regarding issues which the large majority of the Communion's active members regard as salvational.

To be sure, this may not have been entirely intentional on Canterbury's part. To some extent it may have been due to persisting colonial patterns in the way the Communion has operated. The dependence of the Anglican Consultative Council and other entities on financing by TEC may also have been a factor. Nevertheless such a void is inherently untenable. And with its Singapore Encounter the Global South has moved emphatically to fill it, thereby rendering Canterbury still less irrelevant.

(It should be noted that the Archbishop was not criticized directly by the Encounter; this was not its style. The address he sent there by video was listened to politely albeit, a witness told me, silently. And in the communiqué he is still urged to implement the actions vis-à-vis TEC recommended by the Primates' Meetings.)

Despite this emphasis on the part of the Encounter, the question remains of when or even whether the void it responded to will be filled. (In Revelation 8 the fourth trumpet was but one of a series of seven.) The only procedural action taken by the Encounter was the election of Archbishop John Chew of Southeast Asia as Chairman of the Global South Primates Steering Committee in place of retiring Archbishop Peter Akinola, and of various other members. Whether Chew will be as forceful as was Akinola, who has retired also as Primate of Nigeria, is yet to be seen.

Further, the Global South is by no means monolithic. Various views are represented within it, complicating its coordination, the more so as it now includes several primates new to their jobs and thus limited in their exposure to wider Communion issues. Moreover, its deficiency in financial resources, which has led member churches as well as Instruments of Communion into a degree of dependence of TEC, will need to be remedied if it is to play its full role. But the determination it is showing, and the distance it has already come, indicate that even these difficulties are surmountable.

The consequences for America of their surmounting are worth pondering. The ACNA rather than TEC would be seen as the participant in a world-wide communion, with TEC being confined to a particular national and cultural context. To be sure, TEC might then try to maintain its international standing by asserting its adherence to Canterbury. But the effect of this could be the isolation of Canterbury himself from the Anglican main body, through association with TEC. And those remaining within TEC, even as Communion Partners, might then find themselves in a kind of rump.

Such an outcome is unlikely to be viewed positively by everybody, and indeed it would involve losses as well as gains. But even those who view it negatively should be aware that it has a historical precedent. In the ninth and early tenth centuries the papacy fell into an almost unimaginable degree of degradation.

From this it was retrieved not by the sophisticated Italians but by Germans, like the members of today's Global South churches converted to Christianity only a century or two before. This was the movement that came to be known as the Gregorian Reform, after the reforming Pope Gregory VII. Thus conceivably, just as at that time the Lord was speaking to the church through these Germans, so he is speaking to the Anglican Communion through the Global South today.

----The Rev. Theodore L. Lewis, theologian resident in a parish located in the Diocese of Washington of The Episcopal Church USA

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